Jessica Perez Professor A. Madsen English VO1 A 6 November, 2012 Is Organic Food Worth the Extra Cost? With technology reigning, it’s no wonder that in today’s world, food is being processed more quickly and efficiently to feed millions of mouths a day; however, there are also a handful of people who decide not to eat processed foods which is why in recent years, organic foods have begun to rise in popularity. Most people purchase organic foods because they believe it is healthier for them and that it pledges to be 100% pesticide and chemical free.
Unlike non-organic foods, organic foods are also better for the environment. Despite these advantages, only a few people are able to afford the purchase of organic foods since the cost is twice that of non-organic foods. While organic foods have a reputation for being better than non-organic foods, consumers have many misconceptions about the term organic. As a result, many consumers have no clue that the underlying facts behind organic foods which may not be worth the extra cost.
What consumers need to understand first is the meaning of the term organic and how foods qualify as organic. Jennifer Rose, staff writer and new media manager of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), explains that organic foods are simply processed and distributed using natural agricultural methods. These natural methods include without the use of pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and any type of form to genetically modify the foods (Chen 13). In order for organic foods to qualify as organic, they have to pass through US standards.
The USDA, which stands for the United States Department of Agriculture, is an accredited agency that assures the products are organic so they fulfill the qualifications of the National Organic Program (Chen16). The qualifications include that the ingredients that are added to organic foods music be at least 95% organically produced. If they are 70% organically produced then they have to say “made with organic ingredients. ” Anything below 70% cannot be sealed by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture 21); however there are many problems whether or not these products are really organic. One of the common isconceptions is that most consumers believe that by purchasing organic foods, they are supporting small farm owners but that is not the case. Michael J. Potter, founder of Eden Foods, is one of the last remaining men left in the organic industry, meaning that his company is one of the last remaining independent industries along with a few others that are not affiliated with the big businesses (Strom). Some of the biggest organic industries for example, Bear Naked, Wholesome & Hearty, and Kashi are owned by the big corporations which include Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kraft, and many others (Strom).
What is worse is that these corporations have complete control of these organic industries and many consumers are unaware of the ultimate power these corporations obtain. For example, Potter attended a meeting in Albuquerque to decide along with the big corporations of both organic and non-organic to decide upon which ingredients from the farm, should be allowed to be included in organic foods since some ingredients did not look fresh. Carrageen, a seaweed-derived thickener with a somewhat controversial health (Strom), was one of the main ingredients to be decided whether it should be on organic foods or not.
Potter voted it down, but since most of the people in the meeting were from big corporations, they decided that Carrageen should be added to organic foods thus winning (Strom). Not only does this prove that the organic industry is corrupted but as well as demonstrating that they have no interest in keeping the integrity and value of organic foods since these companies decide to associate with the big corporations. In addition, the increase in the number of corporate board members has caused for more non organic ingredients to be added to organic foods which will then be processed and sealed by the certified USDA (Strom).
Corruption indeed lies within the organic industry; therefore, the best thing to do if consumers want to continue to purchase organic foods is to buy either from farmers markets or from Eden, Cliff Bar & Company, Amy’s Kitchen, Lundberg, Family Farms and other independent organic companies whom still remain true to organic (Strom). Another common misconception of organic foods is that most consumers believe that organic foods are better and healthier to consume. Even if they have to pay double the price for it, they will continue to purchase it as long as the foods are labeled as certified organic.
But is it really worth the price? According to a recent study of this year by a research team in Stanford University, they have concluded that there is no strong evidence that proves organic foods are healthier or carry fewer health risks than non-organic foods (Brandt). This study immediately brought the attention of many consumers who purchase organic foods and many refused to believe that this study is true although other studies even before Stanford have also concluded that there is no difference; however, Smith-Spangler, another member of Stanford’s research team, noted some differences between organic and non-organics.
He noted that, “ We did not find strong evidence that organic foods are consistently more nutritious than conventional foods, [but]the exception was for levels of phosphorus, which were higher in organically grown produce organically grown food” but “those differences are not likely to be of any health significance”(Mestel).
Other minor differences were that organic eggs and chicken contained higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids but Smith explains as well that, “the data are scant and quite variable” (Mestel) There is only a little amount present of nutrients in organic foods than conventional foods so why do consumers continue to purchase organic foods despite all the studies that have been shown? Most conventional foods like eggs have a higher of being contaminated with bacteria like the most common one salmonella.
Salmonella can be contaminated when animals are being confined into very tight places and therefore the bacteria can be spread faster (Kluger). This is the reason why consumers want to avoid conventional foods; however, that does not mean that organic foods can’t be contaminated. According to studies in Holland, Denmark, and Austria a bacterium called Campylobacter was found in all organic chickens and a third of conventional flocks despite being vaccinated against it while 72 percent of organic chickens were infected with parasites.
With all these infections occurring, both organic and non-organic chickens can come in contact and spread the infection if processed in the same production line (Johnston 26). Consumers should not be assuming that the risk of organic foods getting contaminated is low. Both conventional and organic foods have the same risks of getting infected with some type of infection. Organic foods causing less damage to the environment is another misconception that consumers buy into. For example, Starbucks decided that the milk they usually use to make their famous drinks with will no longer be sing milk that contains RbGH, which is a hormone given to cows so they produce more milk. Instead they will be purchasing milk that contains no RbGH which comes from milked cows. Subsequently, milking cows’ causes 80% of more land to be cultivated with fossil fuel burning factors, 20% capacity of global warming risks, and a 70% contribution to acid rain; in addition, cows that are milked tend to burp a great amount of methane which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (Avner, Johnston 24).
So farmers will be milking thousands of cows for the thousands of consumers who purchase Starbucks. Not to mention thousands of more that buy organic milk in stores. For the most part, milking cows is not only inefficient to feed thousands of organic consumers, but can lead to drastic repercussions that add up to more damage for Mother Earth; however, Earthbound, which is a similar to the Whole Foods business, comments that, “its farming techniques annually obviate the use of more than quarter of a million pounds of toxic chemical pesticides and almost 8. million pounds of synthetic fertilizers” (Shapin). Still, the farming techniques used by most organic farmers and industries is less efficient since they do not utilize the latest technology and they have to rely on man-made resources such as fuel and land to get the job done(Avner). Plus, Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Natural History of Four Meals, quotes a scientist at Cornell University that, “growing, processing, and shipping one calorie’s worth of arugula[plant] to the East Coast costs fifty-seven calories of fossil fuel”(Shapin).
Recalling that more land means more burning fossil fuel tractors so in the end, organic farming will redo the damage rather than taking the steps to reduce environmental damage by using organic methods. In regards to whether organic foods contain pesticides, many consumers easily believe that they are pesticide free. Organic trading groups such as The Soil Association claim and spread this misconception so unfortunately, consumers do not know that some infections can actually occur.
According to Stanley Feldman, a medical professor and the author of several textbooks including Scientific Foundations of Anesthesia, mentions that most infections are caused by natural bacteria which can come from organic fertilizers (37). In order to kill the bacteria, organic farmer apply a pesticide of copper to kill the fungal diseases; however the pesticide copper remains in the soil for a long time filled with toxins (Johnston 25). Feldman then adds to this that “If a fungicide is not used and the ergot fungus infects cereal crops, then the unsuspecting organic consumer may end up with gangrene of fingers and toes (37).
This clearly shows that organic foods can harm consumers because of the use of organic fertilizers. Furthermore, advocates of organic believe as well that natural occurring substances such as sulphur and copper based compounds are less harmful than the use of chemical based pesticides (Feldman 39). On the contrary, these natural compounds can be just as poisonous as chemical based pesticides. Paracelsus, a German-Swiss doctor and chemist that lived from 1483-1551, reasons that, “nothing is without poison; it is the dose alone that makes it so” (Feldman 39).
Even though pesticides in conventional foods has caused more birth defects and illnesses, this only applies when consumed in high a dose which is exactly what Paracelsus pointed out. Studies have shown that the small traces of pesticides leftover in conventional food have not shown to multiply with the body thus failing to demonstrate as a cause of a medical condition. Besides, pesticide levels are kept in level that will assure no harm for consumers and the small accumulations of pesticides that build in the body have not shown to cause any severe poison for consumers (Feldman 39).
On the contrary, the use of pesticides has played a role in the past 50 years, increasing the life span of a human for up to 7 years (Ellison 71). Pesticides may not be added to organic foods as much as conventional foods, but it and can still cause some harm to consumers. Despite all studies done for organic foods, consumers will continue to believe that organic foods are healthy, grown locally, environmentally friendly, and free of pesticides.
Although these studies are not meant for consumers to stop purchasing organic foods, it is necessary for them to become more aware of the underlying facts instead of having mere misconceptions of the truth. The battle to determine whether organic foods are better than convention foods will continue until more evidence is presented. Until then, consumers that support organic will continue to purchase that. So next time consumers, who have obtained knowledge of organic foods, come in contact with an organic produce vs. a non-organic, the choice will be all up to them to decide if it really is worth the extra expense.
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